For many many years, BAD SEO agencies have pushed “disavow” services. While there were indeed legitimate reasons to use them in the past and legitimate consultants disavowing links, some SEO agencies took advantage of the fear factor and sold these services to people who simply did not need them on the premise that they had “toxic links”.

2020 Update:

I’ll drop quotes here when I bump into them from Google Employees repeatedly telling people they almost never need a disavow. The rest of the article is from November 10, 2017.

The disavow is really for very rare cases & manual actions. Most never need it.
– Google

I’ll disavow them links for ya! It will take years!

In June 2017 I threw together this rant: Deceptive Google Penalty Removal and Link Disavow Services Still Being Offered. I wrote it after seeing a law firm’s site being REMOVED from the Internet. This was a powerful website which ranked on page 1 of Google Search for extremely competitive terms in the Los Angeles market. But the “SEO expert” they were working with completely killed the site. I happen to have before and after screenshots, although I’m hoarding them for my own internal purposes. I can only conclude that the expert either has absolutely no clue what they’re doing, or, they intentionally killed this lawyer’s Internet presence in an effort to keep them paying for many years to come. The move was so bad that I also wonder if they’re working with a competitor and have malicious intentions… I don’t know.  This would literally be like pulling the engine out of a race car during a pit stop. I don’t get it.

Devalued vs Demoted Links

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Rountable obtained the information directly from the horse’s mouth back in September 2016 and posted the information 72hrs after Penguin 4.0 went live.

Google made it clear that:

  • Demoted Links: Adjusts the ranking of a website
  • Devalued Links: These links do not impact ranking.

Penguin 4.0 devalues spammy links.

A Google rep did say that disavow files help Google understand junk links. However, that is a story for another day (Don’t get carried away thinking you will harm the rankings of a site by submitting a disavow file to Google).

There’s only 1 legitimate reason to disavow

At this time it is clear that you only need to disavow backlinks if you have a manual action.

A manual action is when a website is crushed in search results and the webmaster is given a formal notice by a search engine of why. This is different than an algorithmic penalty.

A Google rep stated this most recently on November 8, 2017. They have answered this question repeatedly for 14 months now.

Does it hurt to disavow anyways?

If you still aren’t getting it and want to disavow links just because you will sleep better at night, you can. I personally gave this a whirl on two different sites in 2017 and I saw ZERO impact. And these are on sites that I watch like a hawk. So, I already know the disavow is worthless. I don’t need Google to tell me that it is once, twice, three, four OR five times. If you personally have a compulsion to disavow links and go against what Google has stated and my online experience which dates back to 1988, knock yourself out. It is no mystery by any means: slap all your links into a disavow file and upload it, just don’t disavow GOOD links.

There are still people out there who think it may help. And there are just as many people out there who think that a disavow draws unnecessary attention. Both are great thoughts, however, I’ve tested it and I can’t find any merit to these unfounded claims.


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